It had been 6 days since Marianne had passed away and already the estate had returned to normality. Police chased yutes with extendable batons through the alleys. Teenagers listened to music too loud and bass heavy to discern one song from the next. In the square abused status dogs lolled and barked and fought and occasionally bit the faces of children foolish enough to get close. The drunks drank and the crackheads cracked on the benches behind the flats. Life continued its inevitable cycle, almost as if she hadn’t lived. Exactly as if she hadn’t died, save for her now absent occasional appearances to and from the doctors, local shop or elders centre. Save for the flashing lights and the doctors traipsing up and down four flights of stairs. Unbeknownst to everyone, except Michael, who set foot in Lansdown estate for the first time in 15 years, floating through the merry, brutal, perpetual jig of life.
It had been no shock to anyone who knew him the speed with which Michael had escaped Lansdown. Marianne, while disappointed, could at least take some comfort in that she had seen it coming from a mile away. The only child, brother to a favoured sister dead before he was born, Michael had remained stuck in the estate after his father’s deliberate disappearance. Stuck throughout the comings and goings of the men he would think less and less as paternal figures with each broken attachment. What had been a shock was his acceptance to Sussex University and his subsequent English Literature degree and law conversion course. Given his early cautions for drug related offences, no one expected anything other than a pale imitation of his father’s unspecific and failed career.
He now gladly wore the clothes of a man who had no right to set foot in Lansdown estate. A man who would lose the expensive coat from his un-laboured back under the right malfunctioning streetlight. He also held the anxiety of such a man, but for completely different reasons. The echoing cries of children and the slap of imitation leather against concrete stirred physical memories both fond and horrifying. Broken glass and laughter and parents called and a cold streak in his gut.
Coming out hadn’t been the hard part, at least not in hindsight.
Marianne hadn’t taken it well, to put it mildly. She felt it had been to spite her, that Michael was robbing her of her chance to have grandchildren, to again indulge her unwavering maternal instinct that would dissolve as soon as they showed any signs of independence, if she was to follow her own precedent. In some ways she had been right. Not in his sexuality being anything to do with her, but at least in the manner the information had been delivered. As the full stop to an argument. This brutal punctuation had left Marianne silent. Lacking in blood and will to function. This lack of acceptance had in no way shocked Michael. The need was something he had been weaning himself off of for years. This was the final test. Less a straw, more of a ball peen.
Coming out hadn’t been the hard part, staying out had been.
Another struggle in a life made up of them. His clearly humble roots would often show at the most inappropriate times. But his refinement grew with his faith in the outside world and, perhaps more importantly, with himself. And out he let himself stay.
Thank you so much for getting in contact. I find myself at a loss as how to begin, except for to say thank you. I cannot express how grateful I am that my mother found someone to be close to in her final months. As you may or may not know, my mother and I had not been close for some years now. Without wishing to air my family’s dirty laundry, I am glad she found with whom she could confide, something that had not been present for most of her life. Without wishing to labour the point, you have my unending gratitude. If there is any favour I can grant, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
I’ll be going over to the flat on Tuesday. It would be a pleasure to meet you then, if you are available. If not, I hope to see you at the funeral if you can attend.
Warmest regards and eternal thanks,
Thank you very much for your lovely email, but it was really no trouble. Marianne and I became very close and I was lucky enough to be able to spend a lot of time with her in what would have otherwise been an unfortunate period of unemployment.
Do you have keys to get in? Marianne had some cut for me, wish is how I was able to find her and notify the hospital. It was actually for that exact reason that she gave them to me. I’m sure you know about her fears, especially after what happened to her mother.
Anyway, I would be happy to leave the keys somewhere for you. Unfortunately I will be away on Tuesday, but I hope to be at the funeral. I have a slight family crisis of my own. Nothing too dramatic! But a coffee would be nice sometime. There’s a lovely looking café that has opened up next to the fruit and veg shop. Maybe we should try there?
Oh no! I do hope everything is OK. Thank you for your offer, but the solicitors have given me a set of keys, so that won’t be necessary. It’s a great shame we won’t be able to meet, but I’d love to go for a coffee. I must say, that really shows how much the area has changed. When I lived there a cafe was a place to get fried egg sandwiches. Also, I unfortunately knew nothing about her fears or my grandmother. She died when I was very young and my mother would not speak about her.
Oh dear! Here I am spilling my guts out to you. Someone I haven’t even met!
I look forward to rectifying that soon.
It had been a few days since their last correspondence, but Michael didn’t want to pry, especially not with a family issue. Angela had been so good already. As he walked his old route home be started to think about all the things he would have to sort through. What he would keep, what he would sell and what he would give away.
Past the bus stop.
Her old record player.
Past the old alley.
and her old records.
Past the playground.
The china ballerina
Over the courtyard.
that played the song
Up to the door of Ocean House
that he always sung
Into the piss smelling lift.
when he was scared
Down the hallway.
The photo album.
And up to the door
The family bible.
of number 412.
As the key went begrudgingly into the lock, Michael felt sick. The smell of home. Cigarettes and cold stares. The stink of existential resentment. But as the stale air hit like a bully’s fists, he began to realise that the smell was all that was left. Anything that could be removed by hand had been. The flat was stripped bare.